Phone upgrade time

It's that time of the year again: phone upgrade season.  

This one was a long season.  It's been a while since my last phone upgrade - almost exactly four years, actually.  My previous phone (and my wife's - I generally get us the same thing) was a OnePlus 5 which I bought in September of 2017.  It was a really nice phone and, to be honest, I didn't really want to upgrade.  I mean, why spend $500 on a new one when the one you have is perfectly fine?

However, this time I didn't have much choice.  A month ago I got a text from Cricket telling me that my phone would stop working on their network in February.  Apparently, this is due to the retirement of their 3G network.  For your phone to keep working, it has to support "HD Voice".  Of course, I had no idea what the heck "HD Voice" was, but a quick search revealed that that's just AT&T's nicer sounding term for VoLTE (Voice over LTE).  And, sadly, the OnePlus 5 does not support VoLTE.  At least, not out of the box.  In a previous version of the firmware, there was an experimental setting in the debugging utility that allowed you to enable VoLTE and voice-over-WiFi, but that seems to be gone now.  And, frankly, I'm not really comfortable with the idea of downgrading the software on my primary communications device so that I can rely on an experimental feature.  Seems like that's just asking for something to go wrong.

So I decided to bite the bullet and upgrade.  I really loved the OnePlus 5, so I wanted to stick with OnePlus.  And as luck would have it, the 8T happened to be on sale.  

When I got the OnePlus 5, one of the "criticisms" of it was that it was grossly over-powered.  I forget what the processor was, but the model I got had 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage.  So it was closer to a decent-quality laptop than a typical cell phone.  And the OnePlus 8T is pretty much the same - my model has 256GB of storage and 12GB of RAM.  So my wife's phone now has more RAM than her laptop.  Is this necessary?  I don't know - maybe not.  But with the OnePlus 5, I noticed that I never had problems with it feeling "slow".  With my previous Samsung Android phones, that did become an issue after a few years, but the OnePlus had enough horse-power to handle anything the app store could throw at it.  So I figured it would be nice to continue that trend.

There's not really much to say about the OnePlus 8T itself.  Like the OnePlus 5, it's really nice.  It runs the same Oxygen OS, so there's no difference in the UI.  And OnePlus's "Clone Phone" utility made it pretty simple to copy apps, settings, and data to the new phone.  (It didn't get everything, particularly in terms of settings, but it got enough.)  In terms of the hardware, the big changes from the OnePlus 5 are:

  • The lack of front-facing "buttons".  Whereas the OnePlus 5 had reserved space at the bottom for the fingerprint scanner and dedicated virtual buttons, the displayable area on the 8T includes the entire pane of glass.  For navigation, you can either use virtual buttons along the bottom, or gestures (which seemed annoying and counter-intuitive to me).
  • Related to the above point, the front camera is in a cutout in the screen.  That's different.
  • The rear camera is friggin' massive!  Four lenses and two flashes.
  • The fingerprint sensor is under the screen.  So you can actually just put your finger in a certain spot on the screen rather than a dedicated spot at the bottom.  The fingerprint scanner on the OnePlus 5 never really worked all that well for me.  In fact, when I had a screen protector on the phone, it basically never worked at all.  But the one on the 8T seems pretty good.  Having a screen protector does interfere with fingerprint detection, but not so much as to make it unusable.

So far, I'm liking the new phone.  It's very much an incremental upgrade to the OnePlus 5, but that's not a bad thing.  I wasn't looking for anything revolutionary - just a comparable phone that would work on a modern network.  And I got that, plus a few bells and whistles.

Mobile phone woes

Something strange happened the other week.  I was expecting a call at a certain time.  I was sitting at my desk, with my phone directly in front of me.  It was turned on, it had reception, and the ringer was on with the volume turned up.  But it never rang.

A few minutes after the time I was expecting the call, I got a visual voicemail notification.  Apparently the person had called and it had gone to voicemail.  Yet my phone didn't ring, and there was no indication of a missed call.  Weird.  So I tried to call the person back.  And when I did...nothing happened.  As in, the call didn't connect.  I mean, I didn't even ring.  And it wasn't just this one person.  It was everything.  I tried a bunch of calls to a bunch of numbers and only a handful - maybe 1 out or 10 - even rang, and when they connected the quality was pretty bad.  Same thing when I had other people try to call me - not even a ring.

And it wasn't just me.  It turned out my wife was experiencing the same issue. And the really strange part was that the problem was just with voice calls.  We could both still send and receive SMS messages and use mobile data.  It was just voice calls that didn't work.

OnePlus 5

We're both using basically the same setup - OnePlus 5's on Cricket Wireless.  So if there was some issue, it's not surprising that it might affect both of us.  But nothing had changed on our end since this started.  There was no software update for our phones, or anything like that.  Our phones had been working just fine up until then.

So, of course, I contacted Cricket's tech support.  Obviously I couldn't call them, so I used the online chat.  The person I chatted with was pleasant enough, but ultimately couldn't help and recommended I either get a new phone or go to a store and see if swapping out the SIM card would fix it.  So the next day I went to the store.  The people were, again, very pleasant and tried a bunch of things, including a SIM swap and the usual litany of restarting and resetting things on the phone, but they ultimately came up with nothing.  The only things they could suggest were to try a factory reset of the phone or call tech support again and see if they can reset something on the back-end that might fix it.  So I had another web chat with support and they created a support ticket and said that a technician would contact me to help resolve the problem.

There was one red flag at this point - the person I was chatting with wasn't clear on how the technician would contact me.  They asked for my phone numbers, but neither of our phones could reliably receive calls.  When I pointed this out, the representative didn't seem to get it and simply repeated that they would contact me within 24 hours.

Fast forward to the next morning.  While we were on our way to do some shopping at the public market, a notification goes off on my wife's phone.  It's visual voicemail, with a message from the Cricket technician whose call we apparently just missed.  Because our phones can't receive voice calls.  Which was the entire reason he was calling us in the first place! 

Don't get me wrong - I know tech support is a tough job and I don't mean to put down the people who do it.  But come on!

Simple Mobile SIM kit

Anyway, I was so disgusted by that episode that I decided to take matters into my own hands and see if I could definitively pin down whether it was the network or the phones.  So, to that end, I went over to the local Walmart and bought a Simple Mobile SIM starter kit for $10.

I don't know much about Simple Mobile - just that it's a pre-paid cellular provider that runs on T-Mobile's network.  And I know that Cricket uses AT&T's network, so, by process of elimination, if I can make calls from my phone using the Simple Mobile SIM, then that means my phone is fine and it's something in the network that's broken.

The setup process was pretty painless.  I just stuck the Simple Mobile SIM card into the second SIM port (the OnePlus 5 supports dual SIM cards, which is actually pretty cool and it was nice to have a reason to test that out), signed up for the basic $25/month service online, and waited a while.  After a bit, I got a bunch of text messages from Simple Mobile and I was in business.

Naturally, the first thing I did was try to call a few numbers from my phone book using the new SIM.  And, of course, the calls went through just fine.  So my phone is officially not broken, which is good news.  Also, I now had a secondary phone number that I could give to the Cricket tech support people.  Which is what I did.

Well, the next day I got another call from the Cricket technician.  He just asked if I was still having the issue, asked a couple of basic questions, and said they'd get back to me.  Well, they never got back to me.  But the next day I tried making a few calls and my phone was working again.  I have no idea what the problem was, or what caused it, but apparently they fixed it, which is all I really care about.

While this experience does not incline me to go get a land-line, it does make me a little hesitant about having a single phone provider.  Fortunately, the ready availability of cheap, pre-paid SIMs helps mitigate that concern.  It's nice to know that if my current provider becomes unreliable, short-term solutions are easy to come by.

A (former, not-so) new Palm fan

Author's Note: Well, folks, it's time for another episode of "From the Archives"! The show where I take those old draft blog posts that I never published, flesh them out and add this lame intro, and then publish them so that I don't have to bother coming up with new content!

Today's post is my review of my very first smart phone, a Palm Centro. Of course, it was only sort of smart, because I was too cheap to pay for a data plan, which was kind of pricey at the time. Still, I really liked that phone. On the next upgrade (because Verizon was still doing the "upgrade every two years for an absurdly low price" thing in those days), I actually ended up downgrading to a dumb-phone. In retrospect, that was a mistake. But it's OK, because two years later i finally got a real smart phone (I believe it was the Samsung Galaxy Nexus) and never looked back.

Anyway, I figured this might be an interesting bit of retrospective trivia. This post was written on December 1, 2008, so cellt phones have obviously changed a lot since them. Enjoy!

Well, early last month I had my cell phone upgrade day. I dropped into the Verizon Wireless store on election day and picked out new phones for Sarah and myself.

For the first time since we signed up with Verizon, I got 2 different phones. For Sarah, I eventually settled on the Samsung Sway. Her requirements were pretty basic (camera, text and picture messaging, downloadable games and ringtones) with the one exception that she didn't want a clamshell design. Our last 2 phones were clamshells and she wanted something more like our first phone - a stick phone. Of course, they don't really make stick phones anymore, so I figured the sliding design of the Sway would be close enough. So far, she seems to like it well enough. The only problem is that Verizon, in their infinite suckiness, seems to have disabled the ability to set MP3 ringtones from files stored on the microSD card. Typical customer-hostile behavior.

I, on the other hand, totally geeked out this time and got a basic smart phone. I'd been going back and forth for a while, but I ended up going with the Palm Centro. So far I absolutely love it.

The Palm Centro, courtesy of Engadget

The Centro may be the low-end model (as compared to, say, the Treo), but it gives me pretty much everything I've always wanted in a cell phone. The reason I chose a smart phone was that I was tired of being limited by what Verizon decided I should be able to do. With a feature phone, you are limited not just by the hardware, but also by your provider's firmware. If Verizon decides you shouldn't be able to create custom ringtones or copy files over OBEX, you're out of luck. But a smart phone is just a very small computer - that's the main selling point. You have enough control over the system to add features and do some customization.

Let me start with the things I don't like about the Centro. There aren't many.
1) The single most annoying thing is the battery cover. It feels a bit flimsy and is hard to get off. This wouldn't be a problem, except that you need to get to the battery relatively often.
2) Relating back to point 1, you need to open up the battery cover to get to the microSD port. At least you don't need to take the batter out, but it's still annoying. The fact that the Centro has a side door for the card which you can't open with the battery case on just adds insult to injury.
3) Again, relating back to the battery, is the fact that the phone will actually crash on occasion. I haven't had any problems with the bundled software so far, but a few add-on programs have caused the phone to lock. And, of course, the only fix for that is to reboot the phone by taking out the battery.
4) Three words: non-standard data port. Seriously, what's wrong with micro USB? Plus, my data cable has a habit of falling out if I move the phone around the desk. Maybe that's just me.

Those are my only real non-fixable complaints. There are some other annoyances, but many of those are actually fixable by installing additional software. I'll get into a few of those must-have toys and utilities in another post. (Author's note: it's now 12 years later, so yeah, that's not gonna happen.)

So what do I like about the Centro? Pretty much everything else. On the hardware end, it's fairly nice. The touch screen is very handy and the QWERTY keyboard, despite being extremely small, is actually surprisingly easy to use. Yet despite the decent screen size and keyboard, the Centro still isn't that much bigger than a feature phone. It also has something I've never seen before - a physical switch to set the phone to vibrate mode. Still not entirely sure whether I like that or not, but it's certainly different.

On the software side, you actually get a fairly decent set of base programs to work with. The included PIM software - calendar, address book, todo list, memo app - actually isn't too bad. They also throw in a copy of Documents To Go, which can open MS Office files and PDFs. Unfortunately, the PDF viewer kind of sucks, but the Word document viewer seems pretty decent. And, of course, I was able to install a NES emulator, which is awesome to have right on your phone.

A VZW WTF

I've been looking into new cell phones recently. My Verizon Wireless contract is up next month, so I've been doing my homework, trying to figure out what model phone I should get this cycle.

Like any good computer geek, I've been doing my research online. So while I was browsing the Verizon Wireless site to see what was available, I came across this lovely little popup:
Due to inactivity, your session will end in approximately 5 minutes.  Extend your session by clicking "OK" below

Seriously Verizon? Asking the user to manually "extend" his session? What the heck?!? Is this some kind of throw back? Is this the Web 2.0 version of a pay phone - you just click a button instead of putting a quarter in the slot?I mean, REALLY?!?

Aside from the mind-bendingly horrible design, there are a few other things that bother me about this dialog.

First, what does it even mean? It's not like I was logged in or anything, so what possible data could this "session" have that I even care if it expires?

Second, why is this an alert box and not a confirmation box? The only option is to click "OK". Well, what if I don't want to extend my session? What do I do then? And if not extending the session isn't an option, why are they even bothering to ask?

Third, why is this even here at all? Speaking as a professional web developer, I can't think of a single technological reason why they would have to do this. It just isn't necessary. There are other, less obtrusive ways to persist data that don't involve issuing prompts. Is this really nothing more than a lame attempt to keep the user engaged, whether he wants to be or not? "Look at me! Look at me! You have to click me! Hey, pay attention!"

Sigh.... Just another reason to hate Verizon. If only it wasn't for their coverage area and free in-network calling, I'd jump ship.

On the up side, at least I got some useful phone information. I was originally leaning toward those new touch-screen iPhone knock offs, like the Samsung Glyde or LG Voyager. However, we just got back from a vacation in Hawaii, so I'm trying to keep the expense down. And even after the contract pricing and rebates, the touch screen phones are pretty much all $150 or more, and I really don't want to drop $300+ on a pair of new phones right now. Plus, appart from the inherent coolness of the touch screen, I'm not really sure what those phones would do for me that anything else with a QWERTY keyboard couldn't.

So, I'm thinking maybe a basic smartphone. After contract pricing and rebate, Verizon has the Motorola MOTO Q 9c and Palm Centro for $100. Both of them seem nice and have document viewing and other features that would actually be quite handy for me. There are still things to debate, though - the Centro has a touch screen, but the MOTO Q has Windows Mobile. I'm going to have to do a little more reading.

Is it a phone or a Beowulf cluster?

I saw something on TV last night that really struck me. In fact, for a second I thought I was dreaming, as I had dozed off for a while. But I think it was actually real: an iPhone commercial that gave the ability to watch YouTube videos as a selling point.

Being the curmudgeon that I am, my initial reaction to this was, "Just what we need, another overly-expensive way to waste time." Now you can spend $500 to watch crappy home movies and/or blatantly pirated TV shows on a 3.5-inch screen, rather than paying $400 to watch them on a 17-inch screen. Personally, the only way I can tolerate watching videos on 19-inch wide-screen is if they're full-screen. The little embedded Flash viewer drives me crazy. Plus I was never able to get too excited about YouTube in general. It's a nice, well-designed site, but I'd usually rather have a podcast in the background while I work than stare at my monitor for half an hour.

But after thinking about it a little longer, what I found really interesting about this commercial is how the cell phone is dying out. In fact, I predict that by 2015, perhaps even 2010, there will no longer be such a thing as a cellular telephone. The mobile phone will be a thing of the past. People will look at them like they look at rotary telephones now, as a quaint reminder of how backwards we used to be.

Instead, the "phone" of the future will be like the iPhone, i.e. very small multimedia computers that just happen to have voice communication features. We're already part way there when you think about it. People are using their cell phones extensively for things like playing games, text messages (a.k.a. the poor-man's IM), taking and trading pictures, and listening to music. They've turned into PIM/multimedia appliances. Actual voice communication has become almost secondary.

The best part about this is the rate at which the technology to price ratio is increasing. When I got my first pre-paid cell phone seven years ago, it was about the size of a regular phone handset, rather expensive, and didn't do anything except make and receive calls. Then, four years ago, I signed up with Verizon and got two stick phones with biggish black and green screens, text messaging, calendars, and other simple tools for less than the one pre-paid. Two years later, for only slightly more than the two stick phones, I upgraded to two Samsung SCH-A670 camera phones with color screens, plenty of bells and whistles, and the ability to run BREW programs. Currently, I'm using an LG VX8300, which features, among other things, a 1.2 megapixel camera, an MP3 player, surprisingly good speakers, and a 1GB MicroSD slot to hold all that media. And once again, I didn't pay any more for this upgrade than for the last one.

In a few years, I'd love to have a phone powerful enough that I could use it to do actual work. Maybe something I could plug a roll-up keyboard into. Or maybe I could get something with a USB or FireWire port and an operating system with some degree of flexibility. Or maybe they can just invent a 4-inch laptop an put a phone on it! After all, that's practically what the high-end smart phones are. Now it's just a matter waiting for the prices to come down.

New cell phone goodies

My order of goodies for my new cell phone came in the other day. For about $75 after shipping, NewEgg sent me a Bluetooth headset, a USB Bluetoothe adapter for my PC, and a 1GB microSD memory card.

The funny thing is, the memory card made me feel old, probably because I'd never actually held a microSD card in my hands before. I mean, I remember the days when 1GB was a good size for PC hard drive. Heck, I even remember, when I was a kid, playing Zaxon off a cassette tape on a Radio Shack brand computer that hooked up to the TV. And now we can fit huge amounts of data on a chip that's literally smaller than my thumb nail. How times have changed....

So far, the news is mixed with the new gadgets. The good part is the microSD card. I basically just stuck it in my phone and it created the appropriate directory structure when I accessed it. I was then able to dump MP3s in the card's mp3 directory and my phone is now a music player. I'll review the phone in greater depth in another post.

The Bluetooth headset is Cardo scala-500. It's a hice headset, works perfectly with my phone, and comes with a whole bunch of little add-ons, including a belt clip, car charger, lanyard, and even a clip to hook it onto your glasses. However, I haven't had a chance to use it in an actual conversation yet.

The Bluetooth adapter, a KINAMAX BT-USB, has given me some problems. The good news is that it Kubuntu detected it right out of the box. The bad news is that I'm not entirely sure what to do with it from there.

Part of the problem is probably that I don't have the first clue about Bluetooth. I know it's a wireless communications protocol popular in cell phones and PDS and...that's about it. I certainly don't know what to do once kbluetooth detects my phone and connects to it.

My original purpose in buying this device was actually to access my phone with BitPIM over Bluetooth. However, it appears that isn't as simple as I'd hoped. From what I've read so far, doing that requires setting up an rfcomm device for the Bluetooth connection, which seems to be a non-automatic command-line affair. I also can't get it to work. Or rather, I can get a connection established and the rfcomm device created, but I can't keep it working long enough for BitPIM to actually complete a data transfer. I suspect this will take some research.

New phones and fun

Wednesday was fun. First, it was Sarah's birthday. Second, and on a more technical note, it was time to renew my Verizon Wireless contract, which means new phones.

I went to pick up the new phones and sign the new contract right after work, while I was waiting for Sarah to get home. This time, instead of going to the actual Verizon store, I went to the local Wireless World on Market St., which is an authorized Verizon dealer. I found this to have a number of benefits;

  1. It's closer - Wireless World is across town, whereas the Verizon store is a 10 mile drive.
  2. The Wireless World wasn't too busy, whereas the Verizon store is always mobbed.
  3. Wireless World has a deal with my employer, so I got a 20% discount on accessories.
  4. The guy I worked with actually knew what he was doing, as opposed to the Verizon sales people who are usually clueless.


Suffice it to say that in the future, I'll be going to Wireless World for my Verizon dealings.

I had actually been hoping to renew my contract a little early, in order to avoid the inevitable Christmas shopping season rush at the Verizon store, but it turns out that wasn't allowed. It worked out quite well, though, because I ended up getting a better deal than I was planning to. Instead of the RAZR or SCH-a930 like I was planning on, I ended up getting a pair of LG VX8300s. It turns out that they had comparable features and verizon was doing a "buy one, get one free" deal on them. (Note: that was actually "free after rebate," but it's still a better deal.)

I didn't get to play with the new phones until later that night. After getting home, it was time to do some tiling in the kitchen. After that, it was back to Market St. for a lovely dinner with Sarah at the London Underground. A bit expensive, but very good.

When I got a chance to do a little research, I was peasantly surprised to find I got even more features than I bargained for. The main features I wanted were a (relatively) high-resolution digital camera, Bluetooth support, full-duplex speaker phone, and a microSD card slot. The VX8300 has all these. However, after a little research, I discovered that the VX8300 also has real MP3 support. It's not even hard to enable - it's an option in the service menu. Contrast this to the RAZR V3m, which requires using unsupported firmware.

of course, I won't really know how well it works until later this week, when my new data cable comes in. Then we'll see what this model can really do.

It's phone upgrade time

It's been a very cell phone kind of evening. First, research for our pending upgrade, then problems with BitPIM.

I'll go in reverse order and start with my BitPIM problem. As you may already know, I have problems using BitPIM due to a buggy USB/serial driver. Basically, every time I disconnect the cell phone from my PC, the driver for the data cable crashes and I have to reboot to use it again. Thus I don't tend to use it very often.

It seems that the upgrade to Edgy added another bug to the process. Previously, Ubuntu hadn't had BitPIM in the APT repositories, so I converted the official RPM with alien and used that. Well, apparently BitPIM 0.9.04 is now in the universe repository. The package version is 0.9.04.dfsg.1-1. The problem with this is that the package is totally broken.

And when I say "broken," I don't mean "doesn't work," I mean brings my system to its knees. Basically, this version of BitPIM leaks memory like a seive. In less than 30 seconds after attempting to pull data off my phone, Python had eaten up 85% of my system memory, causing the system to thrash so badly I couldn't even switch to a terminal to kill the process. How it managed to eat up that much memory, I have no idea.

The good news is that the fix was simple: install the "alienized" RPM of version 0.9.08 from the official BitPIM site. Now everything is back to normal.

Now, the whole reason I was pulling the data off my phone is because I'm planning to go to the Verizon Wireless office tomorrow and see about renewing our contract and getting some new phones. However, this time I decided to do my homework first.

After checking out what Verizon offers, it looks like it's down to a Motorola RAZR V3m or a Samsung SCH-a930. The RAZR looks nice, but the a930 seems a bit more utilitarian. I'll have to take a look at each of them before making my decision.

I was initially leaning toward the RAZR because I'd read it could play MP3s, but further research suggests that the model Verizon sells can only do WMA. Apparently the MP3 thing varies from carrier to carrier. I'll have to check with the salesman, but I don't hold out much hope (of the phone doing MP3s or of the salesman knowing anything).

What really irks me is that I'm 99% sure the only reason they disable MP3 support is to promote the use of their VCast service. That's the one where they charges you an obscene amount ($1.99/song) to download music and other content that I don't care about. As if it wasn't bad enough that they nickle and dime you to death with everything else, now they won't even let you use your own data on the phone.

When you need a camera...

First, a little tip: BitPIM doesn't like prelinking. I tried to download some pictures from my camera phone today and got an error about the Python zipimporter. It turns out that this is caused by prelink messing with the binary. Apparently prelink actually breaks BitPIM in the process of trying to make it load faster. The solution was simply to add "-b *bitpim*" to /etc/prelink.conf and reinstall BitPIM, which is annoying, but not difficult.

Second, the picture I was downloading. I went to the zoo with my brother yesterday and we got a really good look at the wolves. How good? Well, this is the picture I took with my phone (click for full-size).
Gray wolves
Sadly, that's the best I could do. Neither of us had a real camera at the time, so it was the camera phone or nothing. It didn't help that the observation room windows were really dirty.

As an interesting side note, the wolf habitat is divided into two sections. One side has had gray wolves ever since I can remember. The other side used to have red wolves, but they've since had to remove them. This summer, they filled in that half of the habitat with (get ready for it): white-tail deer. That's right, they put the deer right next to the wolves. It's like some kind of sick joke on the wolves. But I guess it at least gives them something to do.

Random Kubuntu complaints

It's been a month since I posted anything, so here's my random list of complaints about Kubuntu. Some of them are probably hardware related, but I'll post them anyway.

  1. Adept is great - except for proprietary software. For example, the install scripts for vmware-player and the Sun JDK both require you to accept the license agreement. However, Adept's terminal emulator doesn't seem to accept input. I can see the license agreement (or at least part of it), but I can't actually hit OK to agree to it. The only way is to do it is to forget Adept and install using apt-get from the command line.
  2. Why does my CD burner not exist when I boot up after turning off the PC? The drive has power and everything, but /dev/hdc just doesn't get created. But if I reboot, then when the box comes back up, /dev/hdc is there and functioning normally. What's up with that?
  3. Sorry, but the default desktop settings suck. Call me a heretic if you want, but I would rather the default settings to be like Windows. Yeah, I can and do change them, but it's just a pain. Maybe it would be better if they did what Xandros do and just run the settings wizard on the user's first login. Or something.
  4. The kernel is buggy. Unplugging my cell phone from the USB/serial data cable crashes something in ther kernel's USB subsystem. I'm not sure what, but the exact error message from the log includes the line "kernel BUG at kernel/workqueue.c:109!" so it's definitely a kernel bug. And whatever it is keeps my phone or USB thumb drives from working until I reboot.
  5. Probably related to the above, shutdown sometimes hangs at stopping Bluetooth services. Note that I don't actually own any Bluetooth devices, so I'm not sure what's happening there.

I'm annoyed

I'm a little pissed off at BitPim right now. I'm also pissed off at whatever idiot decided it would be a good idea to emulate MacOS.

I just finished using BitPim to get some pictures off my cell phone. Now, for whatever reason, BitPim saves everything is downloads in its own data folder. Apparently it wants to be a one-stop PIM suite that integrates with your cell phone. Whatever.... I think that's a complete waste of time, but I don't know of any other program that runs on Linux and lets me access my phone, so I use it BitPim anyway.

Anyway, today I was stupid enough to try to use the "save" feature for pictures to move them out of the BitPim folder and put them with the rest of my images. I have a folder of other images from my camera, so I figured I'd put them there. However, before I clicked the "OK" button in the save dialog, I realized that I don't completely trust BitPim and decided I'd better check if that folder already had files with the same names as the ones I was saving. It did, so I tried to click the "cancel" button. The only problem was, some moron decided it would be a good idea to put the "OK" button on the right, where the cancel button normally is. By the time I realized this, I'd already clicked "OK" and BitPim happily overwrote my existing files without so much as a warning.

Now, I'm not really too upset about the lost images. They weren't really that important to me. In fact, I don't even remember what they were of. I'm just irritated because the loss was so easily avoidable. For one thing, it's not really that hard to check if a file path already exists. Just a confirmation box would have been enough. In fact, a confirmation box was the least they could do, since I was "saving" multiple files, which means the file picker only showed directories, so I couldn't actually see if there were any files already in the target path.

The second thing, i.e. the position of the OK button, really gets on my nerves. I mean, I knew I wanted to cancel the operation, so I did what I always do: I immediately went for the right-most button. It was completely automatic; I didn't even realize what I was doing until it was already too late. After all, I work at a computer every day, using Windows at work and KDE at home, and the right-most button is alwasy - always - the "cancel" or "no" button. Why would they switch it to the other side? Are they stupid or something?

Most likely, somebody thought it would be a good idea to emulate the MacOS style, kind of like the GNOME people do. And, as Tog pointed out, putting the "OK" button on the right is the more natural design decision. However, Tog also admits that it just doesn't matter anymore. Once Windows hit 90% desktop market share, such small design choices, even if they were correct before, became wrong. In a perfect world, where everyone came to your software with no bad habits, then maybe putting "OK" on the right would be the right choice. But we don't live in a perfect world, and if your software is cross platform, then the odds are that most of the people who use it will be used to Windows. And for any user who is used to Windows, putting "OK" on the right is unequicially wrong.

I guess I'm just sick of developers, especially in the free software world, doing things differently just for the sake of being different. Or perhaps I should say for the sake of not being like Microsoft. There's plenty of room to do new and innovative things without worrying about petty little details like button position. It's not doing your users any favors. This is especially true for people like me, who use Windows at work and Linux (or whatever your favorite OS is) at home. And since I can't choose not to use Windows, guess which piece of software I'll be looking to dump....

You know, years ago I thought the disconnect in user experience didn't matter. I figured that the people who complained about moving back and forth between Windows and Linux were just lamers looking for something to complain about. After a while, though, it really does start to grate on you. It's not an immediately fatal problem, but more like an itch that you can't quite reach. It's not a big deal at first, but it doesn't go away slowly builds up to the point where it drives you insane. That's part of the reason that I use KDE these days - because it can easily be configured to work like Windows.

Fun with phones

I got a great new toy yesterday. It's a $13 cable. But not just any cable - it's a data cable for my cell phone. Combine it with BitPIM and you have the solution to a problem that's been bothering me for a while now.

You see, my wife and I both have Verizon cellular phones. If you don't already know, the deal is that you sign a two-year service contract with Verizon and they give you an obscenely huge discount on any phone that you buy at the same time. I'm talking like 50% or more off the normal retail price. And sometimes they even have brands that are buy one, get one free on top of the discount. So unless you're filthy rich, you can't afford not to get a new phone every time you renew your contract. This is kind of a win-win situation, since you get new hardware at a good price and Verizon gets to keep down the amount of old hardware on their network.

The only thing that bugs me about this is that every time you get a new phone, you have to sit down for an hour or so and enter all your contacts into the new phone. Sure, if you buy the expensive phone they'll give you a data kit that can sync your calendar and contacts with Outlook, but as a Linux user that doesn't do me much good.

Another annoyance surfaced a year ago when I got our current phones. This time I got camera phones - a pair of Samsung SCH-A670 camera phones, to be precise. I actually only got them because they weren't much more expensive than the non-camera model (like $20), but it turns out that having the camera is kind of handy sometimes. The only problem is getting the pictures off the camera and onto the computer. Sure, you can sign up for Verizon's picture messaging service which has some kind of web interface, but that adds something like $10 to your monthly payment. You can also send the pictures by e-mail, but then Verizon charges you $0.25 per message. That seems pretty silly when all I want to do is move the pictures the three feet from my camera to my hard drive. I ought to be able to do that for free. And it turns out I can.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a comment on digg.com that made reference to BitPIM. It's basically a PIM application that's designed to sync with cell phones. It can sync calendar and contacts, download pictures, ring tones, text messages, and various other things. There's even a feature that lets you browse the phone's file system. And the best part? It's written in Python with wxWindows, so it works on Windows, Linux, and MacOS.

(Note: There is no Ubuntu package for BitPIM, so I had to download the RPM and convert it with alien. The only problem I had was an error about being unable to find libtiff.so.3. The correct way to fix this is probably to install that version of libtiff. However, I used the "cheap symlink" fix, which was to create a symlink named libtiff.so.3 that pointed to the version that's actually on my system, which was libtiff.so.4. It worked for me, but your mileage may vary.)

So now I can get all the data on my phone onto my PC. BitPIM even has an option to import and export vCards and other formats, so it's possible to sync my phone with Kontact, even if it is in a round-about way. Now all I have to do is find out if there's any way to make KDE talk directly to my phone. The ability to sync with KAddressBook and KOrganizer would be great. An ioslave to access the phone's filesystem would be great too. I think I feel a new project coming on....